While we spend more than three-quarters of our day in some form of communication—with most of that time at work—we hear only about one-quarter of what is said to us. Simply put, we are terrible listeners.
That's counterproductive since listening is vital to building strong relationships with co-workers, managers, clients and leadership. In fact, it is considered the single most important communication skill, valued more highly than speaking, in the business world. By recognizing listening as a crucial skill for establishing and growing business relationships, we can begin prioritizing our need to do it well.
Fortunately, there are simple ways we can stop talking, stop letting distractions hinder our relationships and actually start listening. I outline them in my book Influence Redefined: Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2018).
Here are eight things you can do--or stop doing--to become a better listener:
1. 'My Turn, My Turn!'
Admit it: When others start speaking, you immediately begin thinking of what to say next. Speaking may be considered relatively easy to do by most, but many fail to effectively listen. Stop competing for your turn to talk and simply listen. Deliberately concentrate your focus on the speaker, keeping natural eye contact, and tune into their facial expressions and body language. Clear your mind and focus on the message until they have completed their thoughts.
2. 'Wait, let me get that.'
Few things are as inconsiderate as letting a device interrupt a conversation, yet many of us are guilty of giving in to its demand for our attention. Even when we try, it is next to impossible to concentrate on someone speaking when the phone sitting next to us is buzzing with text messages, alerts, e-mails and phone calls. If you're involved in a conversation, silence your device. Show respect for those speaking by removing any distractions that may compete with their message.
3. 'Go on.'
Active listening is more than just hearing what someone says, it's about the desire to understand what someone is trying to convey. This is hard to do because people have a hard time even processing what they do hear. Mindtools—a career skills development group—reports that people remember only between 25 percent and 50 percent of what is heard, meaning we pay attention to less than half of what someone says. By using words of encouragement such as "I see" and "Go on," we can boost our ability to retain details. This style of interaction also often results in the speaker revealing more details than he or she planned to share.
4. Silence is golden.
It's important to get comfortable with silence in your conversations. Many of us are uncomfortable with quiet pauses and rush to fill the dead space. Instead, allow the silence to permeate the moment and give time for the speaker to transition between topics. Pausing between the end of another's thought and the beginning of yours allows time for you to formulate a clear and concise response.
5. 'What I understand you to say is …'
Imagine the number of times we could prevent miscommunication if we took a moment to paraphrase what we thought the speaker was saying. Paraphrasing helps create an opportunity for clarification if the speaker feels he or she was misunderstood. It provides another chance to communicate his or her thoughts and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
6. Keep the dialogue open-ended
Open-ended questions have power. They have the power to explore the conversation and shed light on facts that are missing. Consider how much more information you could learn if you were to ask a venting co-worker "How long has this been going on?" versus "Has this been going on long?" A simple "yes" or "no" response doesn't provide the speaker an opportunity to elaborate, but an open-ended question invites him or her to continue in detail.
7. What are you saying without saying?
While many of our conversations may be casual, some of them serve a purpose not so easily heard. Listening for the intent of someone speaking can help reveal the reason he or she is sharing with you in the first place. By listening intently, you can witness whether the speaker's body language, gestures and facial expressions match his or her message. If not, listen for the intent. Read between the lines and identify what the person is saying without saying.
8. 'Just checking in on you.'
Empathy is powerful. Just because a conversation has ended doesn't mean the situation has. If you want to build a trusting relationship with your co-workers, work on your ability to demonstrate empathy. Empathy expresses compassion and understanding for the conversation shared. Whether you are empathetic throughout the conversation or after, bringing this level of engagement to the conversation will further your relationship and create a degree of mutual respect.
By mindfully listening to co-workers and colleagues, you will begin establishing relationships built on trust and respect. The credibility you earn from your peers will help you become a partner in success to each of them.
Stacey Hanke is the founder and communication expert of Stacey Hanke Inc.